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Pomona College Museum of Art presents Art After Hours – “Turquoise: The Sky Blue Stone” a lecture by Arash Khazeni

Pomona College Museum of Art presents Art After Hours – “Turquoise: The Sky Blue Stone” a lecture by Arash Khazeni on March 7th 5:00 PM – 11:00 PM.

The “turquoise,” an opaque mineral of sky blue color and a phosphate of aluminum and copper formed by nature in rocks below the surface of the Earth, came into being and emerged as a global object during the movement of peoples and commodities around the world in early modern times. Found exclusively in desert environments, deposits of turquoise were historically mined in a wide mineral-bearing stratum across the Asian expanse extending from Egypt to Persia to Tibet. The most precious stones came from mines near the city of Nishapur in the arid northeastern plains of Persia. By the sixteenth century, the turquoise and its culture were “discovered” through the imperial exploration of natural environments and exported through the currents of travel and trade integrating the early modern world. The turquoise traveled from Nishapur through the blue domed cities of Islamic Eurasia and further to Venice, Paris, and other European markets, where it was coveted as a curio, a strange and exotic object to be collected from the “East” and the “Indies.” Being associated with the Turks, the turquoise was called in Italian turchese and in French turquoise or the “Turkish stone,” in reference to the trade that carried the gems across early modern Eurasia.

As the turquoise traveled, something of its meaning was carried with it. Turquoise was among the natural objects and commodities from Asia traded in the early modern world that gave substance to the perception of the color blue. Colorful natural substances – turquoise, cobalt, and lapis lazuli from Persia and Afghanistan – were traded across the world and catalyzed the creation of the previously uncommon color of blue as a cultural phenomenon. Turquoise was the color of the sky, and it was color that brought turquoise into demand and defined its culture as an object. Where the turquoise reached, from the tents of Central Asian pastoral nomads to the royal courts of Eurasian princes, it left its meanings behind. Turquoise came to be regarded as a talismanic stone, prized for the nature of its celestial blue color. It was worn as an ornament and jewel, adorning rings, cameos, and amulets; its dust was placed on the leather bindings of books; it was inlaid on the surface of shields, bridles, and weapons of war; ground into powder, turquoise was taken as medicine; and regarded as one of the “seven colors” of heaven (haft rang), it was adopted for the palette of tiles fired in the workshops of ceramicists and appeared as the color of imperial cities in Islamic Eurasia and their architectural monuments. The Eurasian turquoise trade flourished through the late nineteenth century just as the reopening of Aztec mines in the Americas, along what came to be known as the “turquoise trail,” unearthed more accessible sources of the stone that rivaled the Persian blue.

Arash Khazeni is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Pomona College. His research is focused on the environmental history of Islamic Eurasia between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Pomona College Museum of Art
Montgomery Art Center
333 N. College Way (at the corner of College and Bonita)
Claremont, CA 91711

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